HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Sarah Walley didn't really know the man behind the Coney Island Café counter with the kind eyes and the bushy, black beard.
Billy Fokakis was far more familiar to Walley when she played at the Sunrise Softball Fields, the one who sponsored teams for the Petal Girls Softball Association.
"He's somebody you looked up to all your life," Walley said. "He would give you the shirt off his back. He was just that type of person."
So, when Walley learned that Fokakis had been diagnosed recently with a rare form of cancer, signet ring adenocarcinoma, she decided to do something to help the man who had helped so many others.
"We talked about it, and that's when we came up with the idea of a benefit tournament, and that's what we've decided to do," Walley said.
The fundraiser is set Feb. 17 at the Tatum Park Softball Complex in Hattiesburg. Sponsorships are being sought, with a deadline of Feb. 1. Teams can register until Feb. 13, with an entry fee of $200.
Proceeds from the sponsorships and entry fees, as well as sales of T-shirts, concessions and a raffle at the benefit will be donated to Fokakis and his family to help defray medical expenses.
The goal is to raise at least $10,000.
Fokakis is a third-generation owner operator of Coney Island, the downtown eatery icon on Main Street in Hattiesburg. Fokakis, who had not missed a day of work in 33 years, was diagnosed in late December, and the restaurant will be closed indefinitely while he undergoes treatment.
Walley, 23, said she has been in contact with the family and received their blessing for the tournament.
"He's unable to work, so it's going to be financially struggling and medically struggling," Walley said. "He has great support system. His family is fantastic, but I really wanted to do something to help take a little bit of stress off of them."
Plans for the tournament began in earnest Friday, and Walley said the response has been overwhelming.
"It has blown up," Walley said. "It is huge. I have so many people that want to help. Everybody has been so willing to help. I have a lot of people interested, people I had never even heard of, never dreamed of.
"It's been awesome, but we want to do as much as we can, so we're hoping to get as many people involved as we can."
For more information on sponsorships, donations or registering teams, forms and instructions can be found on Walley's Facebook page.
Walley can be contacted at email@example.com or (601) 325-7657.